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Lel Purcell Hawkins

LIVE OAK FEMALE SEMINARY. Live Oak Female Seminary was a private school located at Chriesman Settlement near Mount Prospect or Prospect Hill in Washington County, Texas; the site is just north of the modern road from Independence to Gay Hill. The school included a primary and a higher education department and drew students from several religious denominations, though it was regarded as Presbyterian because the founders were of that communion. Although this was primarily a school for girls, the sons of the founders went there, boys from the area were admitted as day students, and there was an occasional male boarder. In 1850 the principal founder, Rev. James Weston Miller, replaced the pastor of the Prospect or Mount Prospect church at Chriesman Settlement, an assignment he held until his death, in 1888. Miller built a cedar house in a grove of live oak trees on a low hill south of the church and planned to open a school with the help of his wife, Elizabeth (McKennan). She died, however, leaving him with two small sons. Miller later married Elizabeth Scott Stuart, his first wife's cousin. On their return to Texas from Pennsylvania in December 1852, the couple brought with them Rebecca Stuart (later Rebecca Red), Elizabeth Stuart Miller's sister.

The seminary opened in February 1853 with Miller serving as superintendent, chaplain, and teacher of Latin, French, Greek, and moral philosophy. Mrs. Miller was in charge of the boarding department and served as an informal instructor in home economics. Rebecca Stuart served as principal and taught English, history, science, and mathematics. A fourth partner was added when physician George Clark Red married Rebecca and became the school's physician, laboratory instructor, and science and mathematics teacher. Additional teachers and assistants were added as needed. The school soon came to be regarded as one of the best schools of its kind in the state. It could accommodate sixty boarders and fifty day students at the peak of its development.

No school records are known to have been preserved, but newspaper advertisements and the recorded recollections of former students indicate that Live Oak Seminary offered courses in ancient and modern languages, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics (including arithmetic, algebra, plane and solid geometry, and trigonometry), physiology, physics, botany, intellectual philosophy (or "mental science"), history, and English (including grammar, vocabulary, spelling, literature, and elocution), plus optional training in music and art; the optional training was discontinued after the Civil War. The Bible was probably studied daily. Sunday school and Sunday afternoon Bible classes were also offered in addition to Sunday services at Prospect Church. There was even an optional course in embroidery, and informal instructions in home economics were given after school hours. Nothing is known about the primary department.

When the seminary first opened, classes were held in a room on the second floor of the Miller residence. In warm weather the school was held in the Presbyterian church, while Miller built a one-story schoolhouse to the west. Building continued during the following years until a considerable expansion had taken place. Board was originally twelve dollars a month, and tuition was two to four dollars monthly, depending on the course; ancient and modern languages cost the most. Music instruction with use of a piano was fifty dollars a session. Tuition was raised to $100 a term after the Civil War, when music training was thirty-five dollars. The pupil was expected to furnish her own towels, napkins, sheets, and pillowcases.

When the Civil War began, Rebecca Red and Elizabeth Miller discontinued their work at the school, though James Miller retained a few day students (including boys) and a primary assistant. For two years after the war, he taught boys at the neighboring Post Oak Academy. Live Oak Female Seminary returned to normal operation in 1865 and was again quite successful for a time, but the intellectual center of the state was shifting to Central Texas, and the Reds moved in 1875 to Austin, where Mrs. Red opened Stuart Female Seminary. Live Oak Seminary was converted to a small mixed day school for the children of Miller's congregation, taught successively by his three daughters. The school was being taught by his youngest daughter at the time of his death in 1888, when it was closed permanently.


Robert F. Miller, A Family of Millers and Stewarts (St. Louis, 1909). Mabelle Purcell, Two Texas Female Seminaries (Wichita Falls, Texas: University Press, 1951). William Stuart Red, A History of the Presbyterian Church in Texas (Austin: Steck, 1936).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Lel Purcell Hawkins, "LIVE OAK FEMALE SEMINARY," accessed July 13, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/iwl03.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 5, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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